Spiritual Directors International

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Chased by the Light

"Chased by the Light: Exploring Passion, Renewal and Creativity"
by Jim Brandenberg and Parker J. Palmer
Minneapolis, MN: Aurora Pictures, 2010
Reviewed by Karen L. Erlichman

It is the rule rather than the exception that spiritual seekers describe a palpable and awe-inspiring encounter with the Divine in nature. How curious, then, that spiritual direction itself usually takes place in an office, sanctuary, or other sacred space indoors. Moreover, spiritual direction relies primarily on words and dialogue as the vehicle for describing the movement of God in one’s life. Chased by the Light is a wonderful invitation to enter the mystery through nature herself.

Chased by the Light is a collaborative dialogue between nature photographer Jim Brandenberg and Parker J. Palmer. Primarily designed as a professional resource for Circle of Trust facilitators, it will also be of interest to spiritual directors, particularly those who facilitate groups.

Brandenberg worked at National Geographic for many years, and Palmer is a Quaker educator, writer, and founder of the Center for Courage and Renewal. Together they explore questions such as “How can we find and follow our own true path?” Brandenberg and Palmer each share the joys and challenges inherent in their own faith journeys.

Describing an experience of profound dryness and darkness, Brandenberg chose to create a ninety-day practice to reignite his passion. His daily practice consisted of taking one single photo a day rather than the usual hundreds of photos taken on a shoot; this required a much slower, contemplative approach to each moment. Among other things, Palmer frankly addresses experiencing several bouts of major depression, which he also wrote about in his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey toward an Undivided Life. Both are retreat leaders who draw heavily on the metaphors and power of the seasons. For example, Brandenberg says, “We still instinctively react to the light, to the changing of the seasons.” Palmer adds, “Everything changes … and in every spiritual tradition, paying attention is the core of the spiritual life.” 

Chased by the Light is a dynamic flow of words and images—beautiful photography punctuated by inspiring quotations and conversation—back and forth as if dancing together, images informing conversation and vice versa. Each segment is about eight to ten minutes long, and the sixty-minute DVD views like a book, with large sections containing smaller thematic chapters. The seven sections include themes such as “Paying Attention,” “Encountering the Other,” and “Risk Taking,” to name a few.

Spiritual direction training and formation programs will find this to be a useful resource for reflection and discernment, particularly because the DVD set includes options to order printed photographs, a journal, and an outline with suggested outcomes for participants and organizations. Spiritual guides who work with groups, organizations, and congregations might also benefit from using Chased by the Light as a tool for discussion and group reflection.

Karen Lee Erlichman, MSS, LCSW, provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, and supervision in San Francisco, California, USA. Her writing has appeared in Tikkun and Zeek. She is a faculty member and supervisor in the Master of Spiritual Guidance program at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology.


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